Branded Entertainment on Instagram

The Power of Great Content on Instagram

Brands carry weight with customers. The power of a brand can be so impactful that, just because a brand name is on a product, consumers will buy without hesitation. Customers who trust a brand, know their product lineup and quality standards won’t need to do any research, price shopping or delay purchasing decisions. When a brand has that trust with a customer it’s tough to break that relationship. And with social being such an active part of our daily lives, branded entertainment on Instagram is becoming of huge importance for brands everywhere.

For example, many families only purchase cars from one brand, be it Ford, Toyota or sometimes even a category of cars- such as ultra-luxury or exotic sports cars. This translates to incredible ROI (return on investment) for years to come.

Fans (the best customers) will also do a ton of marketing, or remarketing for a brand. Social media has quickly become the de facto advertising platform for brands because their reach is seemingly limitless. When fans Like, retweet or repost a message from a brand they do it because it makes them feel good. They want to reciprocate the feeling they get from a brand among their peers. This is why influencers have become an integral part of marketing.

Clae shoes on Instagram

When this connection is made among brands and fans the impact cannot be denied. Brands can leverage this in many ways. Instagram is great because there is focus on one image at a time. And the evolution of the platform has only made it more social and allow for greater impact, such as direct messages and video.

Instagram has quickly become one of the best social networks out there for brands. It’s perfect for messaging since a picture is worth a thousand words. The engagement of Instagram over other social networks is outstanding and it seems to be the network of choice these days- and as social media matures, it looks like it could stay this way for a while. No wonder Facebook bought it for $1B).

As Instagram has grown and it’s product matured, the company has been slow to roll out and refine the platform. Recently, there was some backlash when the company revealed a new, modern logo and when it started displaying content that was not in chronological order.

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While many longtime users (read: fans) did not like the changes it makes sense and there are ways brands can take advantage of this to gain more followers, likes and traction on the platform.

Instagram has always taken a slow path to product- meaning the way it’s users interact. It has always put engagement first, which pays dividends to brands to who treat the platform this way and approach it with care and enthusiasm.

Instagram wasn’t the first to adopt video. YouTube is certainly the king, and Facebook has had it for many years. Vine launched before Instagram’s ability to play video, too. But Instagram does it really great for the platform that it is.

The recent upgrade of 60-second video means that brands now have more time to tell a story. This means we can now tell a story of greater impact, one that connects with the audience in a more meaningful and complete manner. 60 seconds sounds short on the surface, but believe me, you can tell a lot of story in a very little time. Think about all the Superbowl commercials you’ve seen over the years that have been incredibly thought provoking and memorable. The big difference here is that the audience’s face is only inches away from the screen, and often times they have headphones in giving sound design even more importance.

Direct Messages

Brands can get creative with their campaigns using direct messages. One of the key ways Direct Messages are underutilized is sending top fans (likers, commenters, earliest followers, etc.) custom video messages. Direct messages are almost always read and when it’s a brand responding to fans, the impact of this can go beyond a campaign that is sent out to millions of followers.

Giving these custom media clips to fans to repost with hashtags can increase your hashtag’s performance, brand reach and when people catch on, followers and likes can increase dramatically. There are many strategies and ways to do this properly and brands that are creative have the opportunity to take their social media campaigns to the next level in terms of reach and ROI.

Campaign Synergy, Preview and Drip

When brands launch campaigns Instagram can be versatile with the media since it lends itself great to photos and video. Below, Aston Martin used three posts to creatively deliver a big message. While sometimes the multi-post blasts can clog followers feed, they were sure to keep this one to three post. Effective, yet not annoying.

Following high quality images with video gives the fans a dynamic angle and information they crave.

Aston Martin triple post on Instagram.

The objective here is to reinforce the message with little hits from time to time. This is why we encourage the brands we work with to approach projects with the goal of getting more assets and creating a more complete campaign, rather than a one-off.

PREVIEW

Some brands are using social media as a preview or drip campaign. When taking the preview route, brands will show the first several seconds of a video or series and then direct audiences to a micro-site or page on their website to see what happens next.

One of the greatest parts of the preview method is that you have a totally engaged audience on the microsite. If the only way your audience will end up on this microsite if through the profile link on your Instagram account you know that they were intrigued and took action to see the remaining of the video or campaign. This means your audience is already hooked and actively wants to know more!

Other digital marketing tactics can be initiated after the view is done such as post-play call-to-action, unique discount codes or early product info. The results of campaigns like this are incredibly powerful, although you’ll have a smaller market (which, in this case, is a good thing).

Below, we worked with Penny Skateboards on a global campaign for the launch of their Painted Fades line of skateboards. While they took advantage of using high-quality stills from the video campaign, they also were careful to display their product imagery and video in a specific order. This is also know as a Drip Campaign in social media.

DRIP

The drip method is also gaining in popularity. While drip campaigns have been around for many decades and re-popularized with email campaigns recently, they are also incredibly effective on social media and are perfectly suited for video.

Sixty seconds is plenty of time to pack a story, but sometimes a brand’s objective in targeting the truest fans. To do this, brands can launch a drip campaign where they tell a story over a series of videos on Instagram with the payoff at the end.

Asking your fans to watch a series of video is more work, and you can expect that the more videos in the series the less will see the complete campaign. At first, this might seem counter-intuitive but it can actually be an advantage. This is a direct path for brands finding out who their truest fans are. The truest fans are the ones who absolutely love everything the brand puts out and seeks out this content.

At the end of the campaign, brands can reward their truest fans with special product, discounts, or other brand assets.

Drip campaigns allow for various touchpoints among customers and fans on a continual basis. The mix of video and still imagery provides ground for perfect A/B testing. Brands can easily see what works best and figure out why- the long term benefit to this marketing ROI is huge and one that has never been available before in the past. Some of this has will have to do what time you post to your social media account, but brands can fine-tune their messaging based on real-time feedback.

The real value arrives when brands decide to do a follow-up campaign, and since many brands have seasonal campaigns, this means they are producing 4-5 campaigns a year (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and sometimes Holiday). Brands who approach agencies, marketing partners or video production companies- anyone who will tell your brand story- will know exactly what type of media fans react to the most, only furthering the ROI potential. We put business results ahead of everything at TAR Productions, and ROI is something we talk about a lot.

Penny Skateboards Branded Entertainment on Instagram

Pitfalls

With Instagram being a mobile-only format, it’s easy to shoot and edit videos directly on the phone. While this is tempting and ideal from Instagram’s perspective, it might not be the best move for brands. When your aunt goes to the zoo and wants to share her home video of lions, it’s perfect.

As I said earlier, when a brand carries weight with fans it can go a long way. Turning a customer (or even a nobody) into a fan is a lot of work, it is earned. The trust comes with a standard built and established by the brand itself. And in turn, fans expect a certain level of quality of content.

The ability to constantly put out content for content’s sake is generally a bad idea for brands. This can greatly affect a fan’s perception of the brand. Why would a brand want take a chance on this? And, as you know, when video is done right it can be far more effective.

Brands that care about the invaluable connection they have with fans cannot take chances and put out quality of work that is on par with your aunt going to the zoo. Fans have and expectation for quality content that continues to raise the bar in terms of the true connection they have with their favorite brands. This is why brands must take time with their strategy and execution.

If you think about a brand you like, such as Clae Shoes or Aston Martin cars as mention above, and you’re used to seeing great products and imagery from these brands, it’s easy to have a connection and expectation from them. Branding in it’s truest form is subliminal, you know you like but an explanation as to why you like the brand is neither relevant nor required.

Fans interact with brands on Instagram 58x more than on Facebook, and 120x than on Twitter.

Brands that quickly put out content that is low quality, shaky and not polished risk losing this connection or lowering a fan’s expectation of what a brand stands for. When it’s on par with something that you can do yourself or your friends are doing, the distance between yourself and the brand diminishes greatly. The long term effect of this is that brands that should be top of mind won’t be.

When this happens brands will start to lose fans (the best customers), in fact, fans will hemorrhage. First the quasi-fans will go, followed by the truest fans. While the truest fans will hang on the longest, psychologically they will stop recommending product or solutions to peers.

Brand Opportunity on Instagram

Video gives brands the chance to have their story stick if they invest in it. When time, energy and commitment to story are not invested in the opposite effect occurs. The recent developments of Instagram as a platform provides greater opportunity than it ever has.

This is why I stress that brands be specific and strategic with content on Instagram. It’s a long-term strategy that can pay off with incredible ROI and benefits beyond what we’ve seen before. Branded Content is sought out by fans on a daily basis. Instagram is a platform that will be around for the considerable future and can be leveraged in many different, unique and inspiring ways. Brands that put in the effort and execute a strategy will be the brands that win. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Brands must continue to elevate their brand with new creative, messaging and further making that connection with consumers. New campaigns, new product and new opportunity must be cared for in a manner that matches the brand’s direction and elevation. In an age where media content is oversaturated, it’s the quality content that makes an impact.

The purpose of Instagram is to create brand recognition and value outside of itself. The way brands leverage the platform and create incredible connections among fans is unique to the brand, industry and fan, but when it’s done right the ROI can be great. The best brands are those that care deeply about their fans, and Instagram is the best platform for this.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Using Video Well

The internet is built on video- video is everywhere. It’s our news, it’s social, education, and advertising. What else, it’s noise. All of it. Distracting us from something else online, calling our attention, hyper attention gets the worst of it.

Except video doesn’t work. Most videos fail to meet a simple objective- to connect with the audience in an authentic and meaningful manner. Perhaps this is why we only have 8 5 3-seconds to capture our audience’s attention- there’s so much else out there screaming “watch me!”

In order for video to work, it has to have a purpose and stand out from the noise. It has to be heard at a pitch that’s unique from the constant clutter of the internet.

Video is much more difficult to create well, far more impactful when it works.

It’s interesting how quickly we forget this simple fact. To stand out we have to be ourselves because no one else can do what we do.

As Seth explains it, this happened to copywriters and photographers, too, and it’s happening to video.

Copywriters have an easy job, they write words, and all they need is a pen and paper, although a computer with internet connection helps. If I want to write something I’m not hiring a copywriter when I can do it myself.

Photographers also have it easy. Today, all they really need is a mobile phone since they all have pretty decent cameras built into them. And since I have a phone I no longer need to hire a photographer either.

We cut corners and fail to do ourselves justice by posting something mediocre.

But the value add is how we use our tools. Just because I have a keyboard, it doesn’t mean I’m Hemingway. And I’m certainly not Ansel Adams- the great photographer.

Copywriters need not be threatened by the fact that everyone has a computer with internet, same with photographers. And now, too, video professionals. As storytellers, we add value to a production- the way we frame a shot, light a subject, move the lens through a scene. These are attributes unique to us. There is no commodity and no one can copy us.

Now that everyone has a video camera it doesn’t reduce your value but creates the opportunity to distinguish yourself. Using video well creates incredible connections. We are extraordinary contributors.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Working at a Distributed Video Production Company

Over the past 13 years of producing videos we’ve experience more things than we haven’t. We’ve seen huge changes in our industry including, the shift to digital, then HD, the DSLR revolution, YouTube, social sharing, digital distribution and now 4K and VR. All of this has resulted in an incredible reduction of barriers to entry.

We’ve seen good times and great times. Fought hard to win business, celebrated and hired a full staff. We’ve taken on huge projects with ambition and refined a process.

We’ve also seen our share of the bad times. We’ve lost business, had projects canceled last minute and been denied payment. We’ve had to pivot and redefine ourselves. We’ve had copy-cats of our work and style. The worst of them was having to let go of employees.

Interview setup with high profile CEO

Through all this, I’ve learned a few things about running a business. For us, the best way to run TAR Productions is through a distributed model, meaning most everyone we work with is located all over the world.

We create specific, tailored teams for each project we take on based on the needs and what the project entails. Although we’ve really nailed down the kind of brands and companies we work with, different projects require different skillsets, knowledge and expertise. Building teams of some of the best and most talented freelancers allows us to be nimble and diverse.

Working as part of a distributed company is part of a global movement. Many companies are letting employees live where they want, for example, WordPress (the backend that powers this website and about 24% of the website out there) is also 100% distributed. I have friends at SlyTrunk and Clave Media, both of which are distributed (in fact, we all work out of Bloc).

A couple of years ago we decided to take advantage of modern technology, cloud services, high-speed Internet and our amazing team, who happened to be located all over. The lowered barriers to entry could be advantageous to us, and to those we were partnering with.

Operating on a distributed model gives us a ton of advantages, but the most important are team and nimbleness.

Here’s how to blend in at a distributed video production company, such as TAR Productions.

Team

The most valuable asset we have as storytellers and being a production company is our team. Without them, we are nothing essentially.

The film industry is made of freelancers with various specialties. These are typically masters of their trade and I’ve been able to learn so much from them. When we get hired for a job I look to them for their knowledge and expertise in bringing out the best for the specific project.

Working in various roles before turning TAR Productions into a full-service production company, I was able to meet so many interesting people. Some are friends I had growing up who have come full circle back into my life and we now collaborate on projects. Others I’ve met through various projects or introductions.

The bottom line is if you continue to pursue your passion, act professionally and put yourself out there you will create connections you never thought on.

The distributed model gives us tons of advantages.

Several years ago I reflected on all the incredible projects I’ve been a part of and it dawned on me that I have incredible tools at my disposal. So why not put these connections to good use. There are plenty of people out there that find value in what you do. When I started bringing projects to these people they were always grateful to work with me again, and the projects started turning out better because of it, increasing our value.

It was a win-win-win situation. I was able to create a more valuable product, the people I learned from who are masters in their own right got more work and our clients received a more valuable product as a result.

A few years ago I was part of a small creative agency when my former business partner left me high and dry, abruptly & unexpectedly, I had to start over, and rebuilt a new brand. This is what I mean when I refer to the hard times at the beginning of this post. The silver lining is that when I took a step back I was able to realize a great opportunity.

Rather than rebuilt a team locally, I designed our unique process around the valuable team I already knew and worked with so well. The catch is that this team was located all over the world.

One thing to note is that a large majority of our team has been together for 10+ years. Many of them know each other and have the process down. They know how we organize and tag our media, they know what specs our projects require. They know our distinguished look and feel that we bring to projects and help us get there.

“Our team is comprised of professionals who are self-motivated and above all else, trustworthy.

We have an established list of team members that can really achieve anything. Because of this, and a few other reasons, we pay our team above average rates for the industry.

If you’re looking to duplicate this model you can start by using freelance services such as Upwork or Freelancer.com or sites such as 99Designs. There are many talented people on there, but their levels of experience can vary greatly. You can expect to get what you pay for on these sites.

I’ve used these sites for entry level work with modest success. I’ve yet to use them for anything high-value, so I can’t personally preach for them.

The key ingredient for us to make it work is the foundation of relationship that we have established. When one team member doesn’t know another, he or she will have an expectation to be professional and great in his or her craft. We have established a bar that we set very high and intent to keep no matter what project we take on.

Working remote means being able to travel on an instant's notice and knowing how to pack all your essential gear.

Working with talented crew is a must for us. Gear knowledge is imperative on location.

This is what makes TAR productions so great. An environment in which each team member can rely on those they collaborate with so they can focus on doing their job to the best of their ability and not worry about chasing others.

I had to recreate what TAR is as a company. I had to pivot. I took a look at the industry and where I thought it was going. We have an enormous amount of powerful cloud technology and decided to take advantage of it. This is why I was quoted in Inc. Magazine.

I knew to take advantage of my network and team members I would have to work with them on equal terms. FedExing a drive is so easy. Drives are small in size, bus powered and can be easily mailed through FedEx’s pre-packaged boxes. We now take drives directly from the mobile command unit to FedEx, and the backup stays with us and goes directly on our media RAID.

We ship a drive to our editors, colorists, sound designers all over the world. We work with top-notch digital markers located in multiple continents. So here’s a quick rundown of our process. We’ll detail this out in a future post soon.

  1. Fill crew members for production and post
  2. Organize production crew and post-production crew
  3. Estimate rough idea of schedules
  4. Ship drives to Editor, Colorist, Sound Designer (sometimes sound is sent via Hightail or other FTP-like system)
  5. Setup cloud workflow for project files, FCPXML
  6. Deliver final project files from Editor to Colorist, Sound Designers
  7. Sound Designer send link to mixed stems
  8. Editor & Colorist mail back drive using our FedEx account
  9. Final renders and masters are saved on media RAID at TAR HQ
  10. Link delivered to client upon receipt of full payment

This has worked pretty well for us. It’s efficient and effective. It reduces our overhead while expanding our creativity and professionalism.

We’ve set up a cloud workflow that allows everyone to be on the same page, and our Producer/Project Manager makes sure everything is done on time and on schedule.

Nimbleness

The other great advantage of having a fully distributed team of freelancers is the ability to be nimble. We don’t have a huge overhead or large payroll that we have to cover every two weeks.

This can be a burden, especially if you a growing company. You take on projects just to keep the lights on, you loosen up on your project requirements and can deliver subpar projects.

A majority of our work is focused on consumer products and lifestyle brands, but we work in quite a lot of vertices. We establish a team for each project is makes us more effective and nimble.

When you're on set with a crew, you always have to be proving your salt. Never stop.

Filmmaking is about being part of a team.

As I outlined in our post on budgeting video projects, we set rates for each crewmember for each job. When we bring in someone with specific experience it allows us to be more flexible and raise the bar. We, as a company, haven’t done a lot in the beauty world, but some of our go-to Directors of Photography have and having them on our team makes us so much more valuable, furthering the win-win-win scenario.

We are able to scale pretty quickly for larger jobs and work all over with an experienced team because of this. Our crew have their own setups allowing them to take on multiple projects during any given month- and that variety is exciting and stimulating, enough that the security of a salaried job and a limited scope of work is stifling rather and desired.

Large in Size or Heart

From time to time, I’ll see a website that has a “team” page with several headshots suggesting the video production company is much larger than it is in reality. This may or may not be true but, in general, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

I think it’s misleading to the prospective client and probably does more harm than good. It’s okay to be a small company. It’s okay to be yourself and offer your services to companies that find value in it. Suggesting you are something you’re not can come back to bite you in the ass.

You don’t need to appear to be big to get clients. You need to do great work, and having a strong team is the backbone of great work. I recently read a stat that said by 2019, 25% of our workforce will be made up of freelancers. I think this is great.

Furthermore, you’re pricing project based on value, not team size, right? The relationship you establish with a client will be made during your first meetings or phone calls. Clients are people too. Having a huge team page that isn’t a fair representation of who you are is equivalent to Napoleon Complex. I think it’s better to impress your client with your process, services, knowledge, and expertise.

Professionals are no longer seeking the perceived safe bet of a big corporate company, but rather are drawn to the unique value propositions and talents of more boutique, yet established agencies.

We have growth plans of our own and plan to take on a few Full-Time employees but only when this makes sense for us. Even when we reach our peak goals we still plan to utilize our network of freelancers, maximizing our elasticity.

The bottom line is this: We’re able to do great work because of our team and defined process. These are two unique ingredients that differentiate us in the marketplace. Our team members can also do other work when they desire.

Challenges

The largest challenge we have being distributed is interpersonal conversations and bonding that can happen. Sometimes, it’s really helpful to sit in the same room with someone and hash out ideas, talk through problems or how we can overcome something. This collaboration can be very valuable, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s really hard to duplicate this even with Skype or Google Hangouts or screen shares.

We all need the occasional reality check from our peers. And the presence one holds in a room can change the environment subtlely. This can create an in-person pressure that helps bring out the best in someone.

We overcome this with the reasons I listed above, having senior, professionals who have been working together for several years. Our team know the way the other person thinks. They know their humor, if they are night owls or early birds, when they can expect deliverables.

I’ve found that when projects are set up this way, and the expectation is set, everyone follows it and can accomplish the project’s goals. In a unique way, we’ve been able to create our own digital bond among our team.

Conclusion

Having a distributed team has worked for us, but only after pivoting a few times. We’ve set up the right team to run this process and manage the team. We can have several different teams going at once but luckily our Producer/Project Manager is a rockstar.

We get a lot of emails from people wanting to work with us. We take it as a compliment and file everyone’s email based on location and skill. We can’t respond to everyone as we receive quite a few of these, but it’s still nice to know who’s out there in our industry and where they are.

If we happen to have a shoot in some place we haven’t yet been it makes it easy for us to hire locals with knowledge of the area and might be able to help source certain gear or shots. All this comes down to building our story. If you want to be part of this list email us at team @ tarproductions.com. Be sure to include what you do, where you’re located, experience or career highlights and a link to your reel or portfolio.

Do you have a distributed team or have questions about running one? Let us know in the comments below!

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

5 Realities About Branded Entertainment Every Creator Should Know

The New Form of Advertising: Branded Entertainment

As we’ve talked about many times here on this blog, Branded Entertainment is a modern and sophisticated vehicle for brands to reach, connect, and earn trust in consumers. Consumers are numb to being blasted with repetitive ads that advertisers hope will keep their brand “top of mind” when making purchasing decisions. Traditional advertising is losing it’s effectiveness, and rather than doubling down on impressions and ad buys, smart brands are embracing the future and pivoting their stance. These are the brands that are connecting (read: advertising to) with consumers through storytelling and branded entertainment. 

Consumers have been distracted by ads for a long time, but we’ve now reached an age where the connection is the value. In today’s internet world, we have ad blockers, Spotify Premium, YouTube Red among others to free ourselves of ads. In yesteryear, when ad ad came on the TV we would get up and get a drink or water or use the bathroom.
Branded Entertainment has emerged as a new form of advertising, but one that is accepted by consumers. I asked our friend Wilson Cleveland to expand on this topic. 
Enter Wilson…

Eliza Dushku from Leap Year

In the TV world, networks green light shows they believe will draw a large audience. They rely on advertisers to buy inventory of spots during those shows for six-to-seven figures per-episode in order to recoup their investment. That model doesn’t work as well in digital for many reasons but summed up, quality content costs money, period and the very nature of the internet makes its advertising rates exponentially lower than TV.

The cost of ONE 30-second spot during new episodes of TV’s highest-rated comedy, The Big Bang Theory is approximately $350,000 (Nielsen). That’s roughly $5.6 million ad revenue CBS recoups per episode for a show that averages 16.7 million viewers every week.  By comparison, PewDiePie – YouTube’s most popular creator with 43+ million subscribers earns roughly $43,000 (SocialBlade) in ad revenue per video and averages approximately 10.8 million views every day.  

Online video isn’t cheaper to make, it’s just harder for creators/platforms to monetize. Economically, networks can’t invest millions on a digital series expecting to recoup their investment through digital pre-roll and banner alone.  To get a digital series green lit, networks have to get a brand on board to cover the production costs, same as you. The challenge is, brands don’t like spending money on content created for any other purpose than compelling customers to buy their stuff.

So if you’re hoping to get a brand to back your idea, you need to approach them from the jump.  Are you down? Great! Here are 5 things you need to know:

  1. FIND BRANDS THAT NEED YOU (AND THEY DO NEED YOU)

As an independent filmmaker or producer, you’re better-positioned than you might think to tell stories that interest you creatively and support a brand economically.  See, advertising – particularly digital advertising, has become progressively less effective in recent years thanks to ad blockers, click fraud and a myriad of other factors.  Instead, brand marketers are shifting more annual budget toward content marketing, social media, and influencer campaigns.  So we’ve got that going for us.

When first investigating brands to approach, ignore the big names that will inevitably be top of mind.  If you already know who they are, they likely won’t need your help. Why? Because the mere fact you’ve recalled the brand on your own means you’ve probably seen their ads on TV or billboards or online banners. That means they already have at least one, likely multiple ad agencies who feel they’re doing just fine without you siphoning a morsel from their Jurassic-sized budgets.

$43,000 in revenue per video.

Most of the brands I work with are smaller units of big financial companies, non-profits or middle-market B2B services companies that the gen pop is less aware of. These are the brands that have the money and vested interest in getting their name out there and doing something cool to break through the clutter. Financial, non-profit and B2B brands need compelling messages to attract the attention of busy decision makers. A brand’s message may be one of dozens or hundreds its audience sees in a day, so it needs to be useful, unique and fit into their target audience’s day-to-day experience. Valuable and/or entertaining content creates an ongoing relationship with the audience, particularly through social media channels that can evolve into buying customers and brand advocates. That makes your awesome idea awesome and potentially useful.

A well-produced series or short has the potential to improve a brand’s awareness and reputation. High-quality entertainment is frequently shared, improving a brand’s reach and its industry standing. Existing customers also have a reason to pay attention to continued messaging from a company when it puts out highly relevant entertainment.  Plus, branded entertainment fosters better organic search rankings in content quality and authority.

Once you’ve identified a handful of brands, visit the press page on their site to get the name of their internal marketing, PR or communications contact (pro tip: it’s the person listed at the bottom of every press release).

But before you reach out…

  1. KNOW THE BRAND

Your initial outreach to any brand should be a succinct, informed and customized answer to their one inevitable question: “How does the story you want to tell help my brand sell more stuff?”

First, you’ll need to think like a marketer. Check out sites like Adweek and Ad Age to get a digestible crash course in what “thinking like a marketer” looks and feels like. Next, try familiarizing yourself with the brand’s needs and goals. What story isn’t being told and how can your project help them tell it a different way? How does your script or idea align thematically with its brand narrative?  Use free tools like Simply Measured to audit the brand’s social media followings and compare with your own audience demographics. You want to look for overlaps in audience data – age, interests, geography, etc.  Why?  Because if your audiences are similar, chances are the brand will trust your ability to create content their customers will engage with. For example, when I open my YouTube channel analytics, it shows my subscribers are comprised primarily of men 25-34 and women 18-24. The content I typically create just happens to appeal to that demographic more than others.  This is useful data to mention if I’m pitching a brand looking to raise awareness among or currently selling to those audiences.

Leap Year Season 2 Trailer

Branded Entertainment BTS

Hiscox Insurance used branded entertainment to increase sales by 35%

It’s important you never come at a brand like your idea is a silver bullet for their marketing problems. Brands don’t like hearing what they’re doing wrong or should be doing. Don’t poke that bear.  Find a way to explain how your show idea will help the brand tell its story in a new, innovative way.

I work with an insurance company client – Hiscox Insurance, who was looking to promote a new line of coverage geared toward tech entrepreneurs. Being a British insurer brand-new to the U.S. market, their core challenges were lacks of awareness and credibility with that audience. Our strategy was to lean into that reality – If you want to show tech entrepreneurs you understand them and their needs, we needed to make a scripted show specifically for and about realistic tech entrepreneurs founding a startup.  Long before HBO, we created a Silicon Valley dramedy series for Hiscox called Leap Year about five friends who get laid off from corporate jobs and found a startup.  Leap Year directly contributed to a total 35% increase in product quotes viewed and products purchased online over the course of two seasons.  But it wasn’t just the series’ high production quality or the parade of TV-familiar guest stars like Eliza Dushku and Emma Caulfield from Buffy, Craig Bierko and Scandal’s Josh Malina that pulled viewers through the Hiscox sales funnel.   

Here’s how we did it:

First and foremost, we went to great lengths to insure Leap Year’s storylines would feel relevant and authentic to Hiscox’s target buying audience of startup entrepreneurs.  Season one followed the five main characters through fundraising with season two chronicling their struggles to bring their “Skype with holograms” product, C3D to market. We set part of season two inside the actual Techstars startup incubator and cast Valley-friendly cameos like Rachel Sklar, Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian, Guy Kawasaki and former TechCrunch writer, Ryan Lawler.  The result was a series that struck a chord with the target audience, established a trusting relationship with Hiscox and generated over 10 million views. General consumer surveys conducted after each season revealed aided brand awareness nearly doubled.  Brand impressions across traditional and social media hit 425 million by the end of season two and netted a total 55,000 followers for Hiscox across socials. 

  1. BRANDS AREN’T BANKS

Brands make useful partners beyond funding your production outright.  In fact, many will lend or gift you things you need in exchange for promotion value.  Locations, wardrobe, craft services, props, etc. cost money same as talent, gear and crew, right? Think about how you can offset those costs with help from smaller, local brands. Find clothing designers on Etsy or local boutiques and bars/restaurants/specialty stores on Yelp. The likelihood of getting free stuff increases if you have an existing following or body of work.  Sometimes the promise of a shout out on your socials or a credit in the project will be enough.

Branded Entertainment is fun, and we have fun on set, too.

Producer Wilson Cleveland on set.

  1. PICK YOUR CREATIVE BATTLES

Asking brands to drop cash on your project then step back is a hard sell. After all, most companies in a position to pay big bucks for branded content are hands-on if anything.  The bigger (and more consumer-facing) the brand, the more protective they are of their image.  

A couple years ago I co-created and produced a branded series for Trident Layers called The Webventures of Justin and Alden about two dudes who road trip across L.A. on a mission to make “the greatest web series web show that’s ever been on the web computer.”  The client insisted on the gum playing a starring role. They were very particular about how the gum could be featured – how you unwrap the gum, how you could show it, how you describe it, who was allowed to touch it. I mean, it’s gum you guys. That degree of meticulousness and product placement would make most storytellers burst into flame but we created a world within the series that was so completely absurd, it made sense for the gum to be treated as a character.

There have been cases where the further you get into the script, the company starts to get a little bit nervous. They will get a little protective because web series as marketing is still new to many brands. My advice to brands on the fence is always: Trust the people who are making the content for you. If you’re focused on how your product is unwrapped versus the story happening around it, you’re never gonna get there. It’s never going to help you as a marketing vehicle. Because it’s not an ad. The audience will not watch it and most networks will require a significant additional media buy if it’s overly branded.  Get the brand to pay for the groceries and sit at the table, but stay out of the kitchen. That’s the recipe for branded entertainment worth watching.

  1. NEVER PUT DOLLAR AMOUNTS ON PAPER BEFORE YOUR PITCH

Never assume how much the brand contact you’re pitching knows about the process or related costs of production. I’ve seen filmmakers who feel they need to attach pitches to low ball estimates to get in the door, only to hear the brand marketer say, “Oh wow, that’s much lower than we expected.” Face palm! Now you’ve potentially stuck yourself with making a $100K project for less. I’ve also seen filmmakers get greedy, assuming brands have unlimited budgets, so they come in too high not knowing they’re pitching an experienced exec who used to run marketing at a Fortune 500. Double face palm!  Now you’ve priced yourself out of your own idea!

Always sell a brand on your idea first, then price it accordingly.


Wilson Cleveland is a professional actor/producer/Internet personality and creator of the Webby-honored indie shorts like SPiN and Kept Man and brand-sponsored series like the Vox docuseries Courageous Leaders, The Temp Life, USA Network’s Leap Year, The Webventures of Justin & Alden and the Lifetime miniseries, Suite 7, among others.  His current project, Intricate Vengeance created for Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s New Form Digital studio is streaming now. Follow Wilson on Twitter @WilsonCleveland.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Best of NAB 2016

Best Products from NAB 2016

Every year we post a round up of NAB and what we think are the most impressive product announcement. For reference, you can read out previous Best of NAB from 2015 and 2014. Naturally, we’re storytellers, and that’s all we really care about, but having the right tools to help us tell these stories are essential.

By no means are we gear heads, and these roundups are our own, independent, opinions.

The impressive, 4K, HDR Atomos Shogun Inferno

Atomos Shogun Inferno

For the first time on our NAB roundups, Atomos makes the list. Their products have always been impressive and director monitors are essential, in our humble opinion. The Shogun Inferno packs a punch, too, with 4K recording and other essential features such as false color, scopes and XLR audio inputs.

What’s truly impressive is that the Shogun Inferno records HDR with log images. HDR is the next leap in filmmaking and allows for a more realistic final product, meaning your audiences will be that much more attached to your story. Netflix and Amazon Prime are both delivering content in HDR, and that means YouTube and Vimeo and mobile phones aren’t that far off. The time to starting thinking about this is now.

Lumberjack System Derived Keywords

Lumberjack is an essential tool that we use on every documentary project or anything with interviews that need to be transcribed. Last years at NAB Lumberjack added transcription keyword ranges for FCPX, and this year they’ve taken it a step further with Derived Keywords.

This may not be the most exciting feature but it’s incredibly powerful. It’s our guess that in the near future we’ll be able to fully automate transcription and, in conjunction with, derived keywords we can quickly and easily make assembly edits- so long as you know your story going into it. This will speed up many laborious steps in post production even more so than FCPX and Lumberjack have already done.

DJI Ronin MX and M600 Drone

DJI is always coming out with awesome products, we’re big fans from the Phantom line of drones to the Ronin stabilizers. We use them all the time and these are two our favorite tools that help us tell incredible stories. DJI has continued to refine and update their product line and the Ronin MX and M600 Drone are two of their best. Check out the awesome video featuring TAR Production’s frequent collaboration DP Ernesto Lomeli.

Re:Vision Effects

We would be missing something if we didn’t feature any VR. Long before our VR shoot with Samsung, we’ve been big fans and proponents of Virtual Reality. Besides HDR, this is also the next big leap for filmmaking. GoPro, Nokia and others are all making multi-camera VR possible, but this always involves stitching the camera together. At NAB 2016, Re:Vision Effects launched a new product plug-in Re:lens for After Effects (with more compositing platforms and NLEs coming soon).

As the video above suggests, you can shoot 360˚ video using a single lens. This works using a combo of hardware lens adaptors and software. It’s pretty catchy.

What are your thoughts on NAB 2016 and where the video industry is going? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Find the Right Video Production Company

Video can be a powerful and effective marketing tool for businesses any size. The medium can help startups get visibility and allow the biggest brands in the world to connect with millions.

We’ve seen startups, such as the Dollar Shave Club, make their debut incredibly powerful because of a catchy, viral video. We’ve also seen brands such as Doritos make everyone laugh and create viral success after viral success, they have even used them as Superbowl commercials.

Video is a Medium on the Rise

Video is a great medium because it’s within reach for any business. Yes, production value makes a big impact on what budget is necessary to achieve something. But if your expectations are reasonable there’s probably a good company out there who is a good fit. And, what’s more important than production value? Storytelling.

This post will show you how to fine tune your project goals as an organization, how to prepare for your video and what to (and what not to) look for in a potential creative partner for video. Most importantly, this post will help you ensure your story comes across and connects with your customers, fans, and audience.

In today’s digital world, we know that geography doesn’t impact who you work with very much. Does geography limit your reach to potential customers?

YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and other video networks have users everywhere, and your customers are, too. The most important strategy is to remain authentic.

Ideas on Filmmaking

Defining Purpose and Project Goals

Projects with goals are always more successful than those without goals. Why? For one, everyone involved has something to track their efforts towards. It’s difficult to just make something cool without much purpose behind what’s ‘cool’ or even defining what ‘cool’ is- since it’s subjective.

Defining goals means that you’re organized and have a purpose. Typically, a video production team can help you work through this, but doing a little homework beforehand will benefit you in the long run.

Ask yourself:
Why are we making a video for my product/service/launch?
What do we want people to walk away with?
How will this connect with our core audience?
What impact do we want this video to have?

Every project has it’s own set of parameters, from budget to timing, location and distribution plan. These parameters are not limitations but challenges, and this is part of the reason you’re hiring a production company- to work through the diverse and complicated landscape that you don’t have a ton of experience in.

The biggest asset you have is knowing your brand, your customers, and the benefit of what works, how it works and why it works. This information and insight is the equivalent of gold to any production. All this boils down to the why.

Why? The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself Before a Project

We first need to understand why. Why the product exists, how it helps your customers, why others need this product or service. These are challenges that every marketer needs to ask themselves. Once you understand and are clear on the why, you can set goals. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

The why of your project defines the purpose. When defining your purpose, ask yourself:

Who are we trying to reach?
Why are we doing it this way?
Why does this video exists to begin with?
How does this improve my customers lives?
When will our audience take action? (and what action do I want them to take?)
What will our intended audience tell their friends?

Defining purpose is less concrete than specific goals, but also more high level. Sometimes, purpose is defined very early on in a product lifecycle, at the onset of product development. Other times, purpose might be the equivalent to your company’s existence.

For example, a product launch video’s purpose might be nearly identical to why a product was dreamt up and developed. Many crowdfunding videos fall into this category.

In these videos, it’s often important to explain why the product exists and how it’s going to improve customer’s lives.

Lifestyle brand’s purpose for videos may be to connect with fans in it’s simplest form. But that simple sentence can actually carry a lot of weight.

In order to truly make that connection, you really have to speak to, and identify with, your core audience. You have to make something click. You need to have your audience literally think “ah, ha!” when watching your video.

When this kind of connection happens, your goals will follow. Connection on this level will make your audience want to share your video, follow your brand on Instagram, and have them seek your brand message out as a guideline for their own lives. You become influential, and in turn they want to share that influence with their networks.

Essentially, when you create a connection so strong with a fan, the feeling they get when watching your video is the exact feeling they want someone else to feel after seeing their share. It’s an incredibly powerful tool.

This is why defining goals and purpose are so important.

Video is a medium on the rise.

How to Set Goals

As noted in our process, we start our creative process with a project brief that helps gather everyone’s thoughts. The exercise is really powerful in guiding you through a thought process that makes you think about what’s important (in terms of goals, areas of focus, and purpose) and separating what’s not important. The questions start off general (timeline, project description, etc.) and get more specific (3 project goals, customer demographics, etc.).

Often times when we’re working with larger organizations, the team will be made up of several people. Each person might have their own thoughts and opinions on the project, and our project brief allows them to talk through questions and goals and get on the same page internally as an organization. It also helps them understand one another better.

The project brief has two main benefits: getting you and us on the same page, but also you and your internal team.

All of this results in a better product in the end. We’re big fans of in-depth pre-production and definitely think it makes for a smoother production and post-production process.

Finding the right Video Production Company to Work With

The Internet has brought so many powerful distribution outlets for creatives, specifically for video, there are a number of channels, with YouTube being the most popular. You’ve probably seen incredible videos out there and thought to yourself how great it would be to do something like that for your brand or company, but don’t know where to start.

Creatives tend to hang out in a few places online. We love to give digital high-fives and share with our networks great work that inspires us.

As technology progresses and our tools allow us to do more, the overlap between sub communities merges. Cinematographers become photographers, editors become producers, musicians delve into motion and so forth.

The central location for this online is Vimeo. Vimeo prides itself on a high quality player and community for creatives. By and large the content on Vimeo is very high quality and there are plenty of groups supported by individuals who love sharing and curating work.

Finding an example can be a great first step in making a video. Once you do this you can easily check out the creator’s other work. Bookmark videos you like and dissect what you like about them. You can write down adjectives and other descriptors from each one such as:

Another great trick for Vimeo is to start following a few creators you like. In the “My Feed” tab on the homepage, you can quickly see when someone you follow has uploaded something new, like or commented on a video, appeared in another video and more. This will quickly introduce you to other people who’s work you might also like.

Be Prepared: Plan & Organize Your Video, then Reach Out

Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for it’s time to start planning out your video. The things you should be planning are logistics such as timing, target completion date, background info on company, goals, budget, distribution channels, etc.

Your company may already have the logistics worked out. If your deadline is based around an event, you can leverage preexisting marketing outlets with your video. If your target demographic is there, then a video can seamlessly be fit into the equation.

When you’re ready to approach a video production company, the more organized you come, the more likely you’ll start off on a good track (hint: read on for an example of this). Videos take time to produce and create, you’ll be spending a lot of time with this team. Working together goes a long way.

You know your company or product much better than the production company will. Be prepared to bring them up to speed on who you are and what your goals are. Don’t worry about creative idea or execution, this is why you’re partnering with them, they will be happy to help you along this path.

Also share with them any restrictions you might have. Is there a hard deadline for this project? What’s driving that? Do you have budget limitations (yes, everyone does) and what are they?

It’s okay to ask for a few ideas from the creative and get an explanation of what each project looks like. Ask yourself the potential ROI of each of them.

When you have a plan and a few potential creators, reach out to them. I’ve found it best to be more detailed up front and get the dialog going right away. Plus, the more details you can provide the less you’ll have to repeat during conference calls.

The details you’ve outlined and adjectives will give the production company a head start on what this project entails going into it.  If there’s a project of theirs that you particularly like mention what you like about it and why.

Creative Brainstorming

Everyone you talk to will probably have their own way of approaching projects. For us, it starts with the creative brief. We hold off on sharing creative ideas before then because everything we do has a purpose. We’re constantly asking ourselves “Why?” We are so curious we like to peel back layer after layer, until we find the meaning of our project.

Whoever you end up working with, it’s part of their job to create or develop the story your company is telling. Research, scouting locations, talking to potential characters and thinking outside the box can really go a long way.

When we approach projects we like to get the jist of what we’re dealing with, but we like to peel back each layer ourselves. This is how we connect with people, and our audience will have the same feeling.

We do this because we’re storytellers and we have to know how we’re going to structure our story. Settings, demographics, location, etc all play into our storytelling, too.

Others might not do this or have their own approach. Whichever way works for them you should respect it. You’re talking to them for a reason- you like their work and might want them to make something with you. The last thing I would recommend is trying to mix a few things up and end up with a subpar project.

When HouseCall first approached us about their explainer video they had this crazy and ambitious idea. It was complex, involved multiple shoot locations and days and had a somewhat convoluted storyline.

Their idea came out in our first meeting, after a couple of phone calls back and forth. We knew their (yet to be released) product, we knew their market and who they were targeting, we knew YouTube was the primary distribution channels and that the video would be accompanied with press releases. We knew their budget and we knew it was a good fit for each other.

Their idea was too ambitious. Their budget didn’t support it and they were taking a simple idea and making it complex. It sounded good in pitch form, but after producing videos for more than 12 years I knew it was too much, and I had to shut it down.

Taking all the information from our conversations we had and the info from the project brief, we started dreaming up a few ideas. I pitched them the idea for a single take walk through that showed the before and after in one-take. They loved it and that’s what we executed.

TAR Productions crew on location

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The Projects We Look For

While there are plenty of dream projects we’d love to be a part of, we do have to work with limitations on every project. Our best work has always been the projects that sometimes seemed too lofty or the project our client had always been dreaming of tackling. This is why we’re here, after all, to support and work with our clients.

The projects that we’re dying to make are:

  • A brand new product launch: The thing you’ve been working on for 2+ years and is really going to make an impact on your company, industry and customer’s lives. We love this!
  • Lifestyle, Sports, Technology, Nature: This pretty much sums us up. Anything related to this and you’ve already got our undivided attention. This is what earned us an Emmy-Award nomination. If you really want to push it creatively we may just end up becoming best friends.
  • Something that’s never been done before. We’re explorers and creatives, we love challenging ourselves and dreaming of what’s possible. If there’s a story to tell and a way to connect with your audience, we’ll figure that out and make something remarkable.
  • Traveling to the edge of the world, and back: We cut our teeth traveling and have flown around the world many, many times. Not only are we expert navigators dealing with complex logistics, chances are we know local resources wherever it is your story takes us, making things all that much easier.
  • Storytelling. While there’s a story behind everything, this is what we do best. Sometimes you have to peel back the layers and find the story that will really catch on with your audience. It sounds hard but don’t worry, that what we’re here for.

Also, in the interests of saving all of us some time, here are the projects we’re not a good fit for:

  • You’re shopping for the lowest price: Everything we do is based on value and we only take on projects where we feel you can make more money than you pay us. We don’t compete on price and don’t even have rates. Want to know more about how we price projects, we wrote this nifty guide on how our projects are priced. Value pricing has been incredibly beneficial those we work with.
  • Projects that need to be done right away: There are always exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, the project you need completed in 3 days isn’t a good fit for us. We have a process and the only way we can be sure you’ll get value out of what we make together is to stick to that process. Hint: Generally speaking, it usually takes 8-12 weeks from start to completion for any given video production project.
  • The project you “just need done.” Filmmaking is a collaborational effort. And while the level of collaboration can vary between you and us, we’ll need your input. Plus, if you already have it all worked out we probably can’t add much value. We prefer to work through and solve problems together.
  • Onerous contractual terms: As I said earlier, video is a collaborative effort, and our agreement should be mutually beneficial, too. We feel so strongly about this that we made our contract open-source. If we end up working together this is where we’ll start.

Outreach

There are many incredible creative communities out there. Finding the right fit for you, your team and/or your project is incredibly valuable. Taking the advice in this post and reaching out to a creative production company or agency can be the foundation that you need to take your project, and your company, to the next level.

If you’d like to reach out to TAR Productions please do so or shoot an email to info@tarproductions.com. Tell us a little bit about your project, why you’re doing it and why you think everyone will love it. We love hearing from everyone and look forward to our next creative project.

Don’t know where to start or how to reach out? Use this template as a guide, edit as needed to suit your needs.

Hi TAR Productions,

I was checking out your work online and really impressed. My friend [Suzanne Smith] recommended I get in touch with after I told her about a project my team has been working on.

I’m a marketing manager at [Under Armor] and we’re launching a [new line of product based around our new breakthrough, sweatproof technology for triathletes, cyclists and swimmers]. We’ve been working on it internally for 2+ years and it’s going to launch in the next 6 months, in time for the triathlon season to start. I’d love to partner with you on an awesome video that will take the product launch to the next level.

We’ll need to really make an impact with our core customers but also reach out non-endemic customers as we believe this product will have a positive effects on anyone doing general training as well.

You’ll be working with myself and our CMO, so we can move pretty quickly. We need to keep our budget in the $90k-$115k range, but might be able to allocate a bit more if the right creative idea were to present itself.

I’m happy to provide more details and I look forward to speaking with you guys about your process and how you might be able to help us make this launch a success.

Thanks,
Amber

Some of our favorite projects turn out to be so great because of the people we’re working with. Often times we remain friends with these clients. The one commonality between all of them is each project was kicked off with excitement and a mutual understanding and respect for one another.

Creating a video is a collaboration and emails like the above example make us feel good about the project. It makes us care even more and want to produce the best work we can. These situations make it feel less like a job and more a journey that we get to go on together.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

11 Cinematographers to Follow on Instagram

Social media has not only changed the way we communicate with friends, peers, fans and brands alike; It has also changed the way we connect, educate, inspire. The overlapping principles between still photography and motion have provided an outlet for some of the world’s best cinematographers to connect with anyone, making their personal accounts worthwhile for a follow.

Cinematographers have always taken a backseat to photographers outside their niche. In the past, very few cinematographers would also shoot magazine covers or still campaigns for brands. But alas, we live in the digital age now and the lines are blurred, if not completely erased, as to what’s possible for these professionals.

Video is certainly a medium on the rise with Flickr, Vine, Periscope and Snapchat all embracing the medium. But a simple photograph can easily be just as powerful, and some lens masters aren’t always where you’d expect.

Below are some incredible cinematographers that will inspire you and make your Instagram feed more enjoyable.

A photo posted by Kate Arizmendi (@katearizmendi) on


Kate Arizmendi

@katearizmendi: Kate’s feed is a mix of pop, culture, art, work and women’s equality. Her feed is fun, and, of course, the occasional behind the scenes is always interesting. Based in NY, Kate shoots short films, commercials and music videos and has worked with great lifestyle brands.

Shane Hurlburt, ASC

@shanehurlbutasc: With several studio backed features to his name, and a pioneer in the digital cinema age with the Canon 5Dii shooting about 75% of Act of Valor on that camera. He, along with his wife Lydia and their team at Hurlbut Visuals, are huge educators and are constantly providing an incredible amount of valuable info to the Inner Circle.

A photo posted by Andy Best (@andy_best) on

Andy Best

@andy_best: Andy is an adventure and outdoors photographer and filmmaker. He’s an explorer for The Outbound and posts some incredible scenics. He’s officially based in Portland, OR but from his feed you can tell he’s pretty much always traveling, wandering and exploring this amazing planet we live on.


Autumn Durald Arkapaw

@addp: Besides great photos of her professional work, Autumn includes great imagery of her everyday life, such as her dog or the clouds. What’s great about these photos is that they all have a cinematic feel to them. It’s refreshing to see mundane everyday things that have a twist.

Russell Houghten

@russellhoughten: Russell is an accomplished skate filmmaker, among other things. He’s one that uses the camera as a tool, and never let’s his tools limit his creativity. He recently shot a video for New Balance Numeric only using an iPhone (a Vimeo Staff pick) and put a GoPro in a fishbowl for a creative little skate video (also a Vimeo Staff pick). His feed includes some awesome skate lifestyle and nature posts, too. So he mixes it up and I definitely recommend you check out his Instagram feed.

A photo posted by @chivexp on

Emmanuel Lubezki

@chivexp: Chivo has consistently worked with directors such as Alfonso Cuaron, Terrence Malick and Alejandro Iñarritu. His feed has some of the most beautiful images you’ll find. His commentary is short and vague, if at all. The most interesting part, he has amassed over 160k followers, has a verified account with Instagram, but there’s never a mention of who he is or any personal confirmation in his posts.

Vincent Laforet

@vincentlaforet: Recently Vincent has been posting some incredible night aerial photos of New York. He recently published a coffee table book of all these aerial images. Vincent was another pioneer in the digital SLR revolution with the Canon 5Dii.

Morgan Maassen

@morganmaasen: Morgan is an incredible surf photographer turned filmmaker. He has a couple of Vimeo’s Staff Picks and is always traveling to remote and exotic locations all over the world. He’s active in his posting and always has a unique shot or location that makes you wish you were in his shoes when the photo was taken. With over 200k followers many have started to take note.

A photo posted by Jerry Ricciotti (@jerryotti) on

Jerry Ricciotti

@jerryotti: Jerry is a DP at Vice Media, mainly shooting Vice on HBO. As you would imagine, he is always traveling to 3rd world countries, usually putting himself in precarious situations. However, Jerry always travels with a quality still camera and his account shares a different side of his travels. A majority of his images are captured on a Sony A7s or Fuji X100s, but he has been posting some incredible frame grabs from his Canon C300ii.

Reed Morano, ASC

@reedmorano Reed’s feed is full of great imagery. Whether she’s on set, scouting or posting the occasional BTS picture. She also has some candid moments with Martin Scorsese. It’s clear by her feed that Reed is a master at light and color.

A photo posted by Wally Pfister (@wpfister) on


Wally Pfister

@wpfister: I’ve really enjoyed Wally’s posts. When I first started getting into cinematographer he was one of the DP’s I would watch closer. Anytime a movie he shot came out I went to go see it (whether I was interested in the plot or not). I got to watch him on set for a day and was mesmerized by watching his vision come to life. It’s really neat to now be able to see into his professional world a little bit for. Wally shot Moneyball, one of my favorite movies.

What I really love is the everyday photos everyone posts on Instagram. Following these cinematographers provides some insight into how each of them view everyday things and where they pull inspiration from.

Are you enjoying these cinematographer’s Instagram feeds? Let us know in the comments below about any feeds you love!

Ultimate Guide to Video Production Contracts & Free Template

The Contract Template You Need

This post is chock full of great stuff on the legal side of video production and the greater professional creative services in general. Over the past 13 years we’ve been in a couple of sticky situation before and luckily we had a contract in place to protect us. Had we not had a contract, we would have been in serious jeopardy of going out of business, filing for bankruptcy or maybe been sued.

However, we learned a lot from our experiences and recently consulted with our lawyer to rewrite our entire contract from the ground up. It’s solid, and we spent over $2,500 to get it there, and now we’re open sourcing it for everyone.

Signing a contract? Make sure it includes these items...

Contracts protect both parties. When producing a video both parties have something at stake, and also have the best of intentions. Sometimes there are assumptions, sometimes there are things interpreted one way but meant another. Contracts clear all this up, and more. Contracts make sure everyone is on the same page.

Professionals use contracts, amateurs don’t.

Presenting your clients with a contract shows them that you are a professional, and you’re working with them for business purposes. We never start any work on a project without a signed contract and a deposit.

We decided to open source our contract to give back to the creative community we’re a part of. Video Production can be a tricky world, there are many variables, equipment requirements, crew members and a whole lot more, and contracts are necessary.

Our goal with this blog is to help others learn from our experiences. As I’ve said before, a rising tide lifts all ships.

 

Why You Need A Contract

Service Contracts are important for any business. They outline the parameters of the specific job and cover the overall relationship between the parties involved. This is where everyone gets on the same page and any confusion is removed.

Master Service Agreements (MSA) is a great thing to have, it adds credibility to the service provider and lets your customers know that they are working with a professional organization. MSAs are typically provided by the service providers.

When you have a contract, or Master Services Agreement, in place, should something unfortunate happen the contract is there to determine how to move forward. Generally speaking, most enter into an agreement with the best of intentions, but things do come up, such is life.

In the last 13 years of running a production company, we’ve only had to refer back to our contract twice to clear things up. Had we not had a contract in place we wouldn’t be in business today.

Convinced you need a solid contract but don’t know where to start? Download our boilerplate contract now.

A Note To Those Buying Video

Contracts are particularly important for creative projects because so much of the result, or final deliverables, is unknown. When someone hires us for a video we have no idea what the final product will look like, but we do know the process of getting there and have done that hundreds of times in the past. We might have an idea, storyboard, creative direction/inspiration and so forth based on our initial conversations, but until the lights and camera are out and the Director yells “Action!” is still somewhat of a mystery.

The same can be said for a website designer or any other creative. You might hire someone to design a website with X pages or a specific functionality (such as local search or online ordering), but at the commencement of that job, it’s hard to know what the layouts and art direction will look like.

It’s important to note that when you are hiring a creative you are hiring him/her/them for their knowledge and expertise. You were most likely referred to them by a friend or saw something in their portfolio that made you think “Ah, ha! This is the team for me.”

So, it’s important to let the creatives do their job and be creative. Hopefully, that process I mentioned earlier allowed you, the one hiring the creative, to get all your creatives to understand your thoughts and goals. If not, back up and have that conversation again.

This is why it’s important to price projects based on value, not time involved or cost.

For Creative Service Providers

If you want to be a professional outfit you need to have a contract in place for every customer, client, and job. There are two parts to our contracts:

  • Master Service Agreement (MSA)
  • Statement of Work (SOW)

Master Services Agreement

The MSA is the master contract covering everything between you and your client. It’s a detailed document that states who does what, who owns what, when things are to happen and how (such as payment).

When you’re working with larger clients they will sometimes ask you to sign their contract. They usually make the terms, too, which can be difficult if you’re a smaller company or just getting started. It’s hard to wait 30, 60 or even 90 days for payment.

This is where you negotiate. If there is language in the contract that is partial to the other party you need to explain why you need it changed and ask for edits. Without asking you’ll get nowhere and be bound to their terms for the rest of your relationship or project.

The MSA is only executed once between you and your client, so it’s important to talk about all terms at the onset of your relationship. Remember, you’re a professional, negotiation is not a bad thing.

As an aside, I’ve always felt that agreement is a better term than contract. The agreement sets the foundation for a healthier relationship with those who you work with.

Statement Of Work

The Statement of Work (SOW) is attached to the MSA and covers each project individually. This document is more job-specific than the MSA and covers what the scope is for each project.

Say you’re hired to produce a video for a client. When it’s all said and done they love it (of course) and want you to produce another video for them.

In this situation, all you have to do is create a new SOW that is tied to the MSA you already have with them and get working. Easy!

Our SOW covers what we’re shooting, where, how many shoot days, what is being delivered and when payment is due and any other additional notes that are project specific. The SOW covers the variables that change from project to project.

Contracts make sure everyone is on the same page.

Let Lawyers Do the Talking

You should get a lawyer and contract in place before you need one or both. Having a relationship with a lawyer is always a good thing. It’s unfortunate when situations get sticky, but sometimes that happens, sometimes it’s beyond your control.

Getting to know your lawyer will pay dividends in the long run. As your business grows, having someone to call on who is familiar with your line of work will make everything easier.

When negotiating an MSA with a new client, it’s best to let the lawyers do the talking. Your lawyer will have your best interests in mind and can talk with your clients lawyer about all the touchy subjects included.

They’re very comfortable talking about this, they do it all day, every day. Plus, when you remove yourself from these situations you can focus on having a great relationship with your new client and focus on the creative at hand.

Should you be the one doing the talking with your client about anything contractual, please do this in person- never over email. Sometimes a phone call or Skype will work, but in person is always the best for this kind of stuff.

Contracts can be a tricky business and the last thing you want to do is provide a false impression at the onset of a relationship.

Finding a Good Lawyer

Who’s ever asked their friends for a crappy lawyer? No one. Everyone wants a good lawyer. Once someone has a good, life-saving or relieving experience with a lawyer they tend to keep that relationship on good terms (same goes for storytellers and video producers, just saying).

The best way to find a good lawyer is to ask around. Ask friends, people you trust, colleagues or peers in the workplace. Ask your competitors (seriously). Lawyers by referrals are just like a you getting a referral from a client. If the project went well between you and your former client, odds are this potential project will go well, too. It’s the same with lawyers- we are all professional service providers, after all, aren’t we?

If you come up short with your friends you can try lawyers who practice different areas of law. Typically the business or litigation lawyers will stick together, as will family lawyers or criminal lawyers, but you’d be surprised how big their legal networks are.

The point is to get a lawyer before you need one. Should you ever need a lawyer having one in your rolodex or someone you’ve worked with before will behoove you.

Lawyer Limitations

Remember, your lawyer can only do so much. It’s your responsibility to have him/her understand your business and/or job functionality. This limitation can be erased after a few conversations or working together for a bit. That’s why I say a relationship with your lawyer will pay dividends in the long run.

The more your lawyer knows about your business, and the more you work with him/her, the greater the asset you will have. In these conversations with your client’s legal team, you lawyer will stick up for you and help you get the terms best suited for your growth as a business.

It’s a good idea to budget for legal with new clients. Expect a bit of negotiation and the last thing you want to do is take money that should be profit and have it all go to legal expenses. So, budget accordingly for the first couple of jobs since this is where a bulk of the negotiation will occur.

Anytime a larger client delivers you their contract have your lawyer review it. We’ve received contracts that state a project must be delivered on ¾” video tape- the state of the art video format of the 1970s.

Imagine being contractually obligated to deliver a project in a format that is extinct. I doubt the sender knew what was in the contract and sent it blindly.

My point is that contracts can be old. They can be something someone found somewhere on the Internet without even reading it.

To save cost on your lawyer reading and redlining a contract you should read it yourself first. Highlight anything specific you want to review with your lawyer- remember, you probably know more about the creative world and video production than your lawyer does, so this will behoove both of you.

Watch our reel.

A Horror Story

I fully believe that everyone enters into an agreement with the best of intentions. We once had a project where we were all set to do a video for. We had met a few times, reviewed creative, signed a contract and received a deposit. Everything was good.

Until it wasn’t. Less than 24 hours before we were scheduled to shoot we got an email from our contact saying that the company was going in three different directions and that our video was no longer needed. We had no idea this was coming and there was nothing we could do about it.

It was the 11th hour. We had already made all arrangements for the remainder of the project, including pre-production, strategy, renting gear, and booking crew. We’re screwed.

The good news, our contact said, was that he was now in need of 3 (three!) videos- but they needed a month-or-so to figure it all out. Our client assumed this was an easy switch and swap, but from our point of view, it was a completely new project. Our contract covered what would happen in this situation and we began the process of getting paid what was rightfully owed to us based on the work we had already performed.

Our client saw it differently. They assumed that since we didn’t actually shoot the project they didn’t owe us anything.

Here we were, with a lot of expense- gear rented, a crew hired and all the research, strategy, creative direction, pre production, script writing completed. These attributes are project specific and cannot be transferred over to a new project a month-or-so down the line. Worse, we had hard cash spent on a lot of these.

We work with a lot of hired freelancers on a per job basis. Once these guys are booked for a day or a job, they’re getting paid no matter what. We rely on our team to complete jobs and expect them to work hard for us. Once they have committed to us they are turning down work from others, and if we cancel on them they’re out of work. Morally, I can’t promise work and pay for our crew and not pay them, it’s just wrong.

If we back out on our end of the commitment to our team do you think they’ll continue to work for us? Our relationship with our team would deteriorate and have serious negative long-term effects on our business and reputation. (Notice how many times I’ve mentioned relationships in this post?)

Fortunately, we had a contract that covered us in this unforeseen situations. And, this is exactly why you should build a relationship with a lawyer.

It took us time to get paid, a long time. In the meantime, the company laid off 15% of its workforce and guess what, our contact was one of them. So, now we had to start the entire process of tracking our money down all over again and talk with new people. It was a disaster. The supposed promised 3 videos in a “month or so” were also gone and dusted. Just another reason why we needed to get paid for work already performed.

Learn from our mistake here and make sure your contract has a clause in there to cover you in situations such as these. This has only happened to us twice in 13+ years of business. It’s never fun, but you only learn the hard way once. Luckily for you, you found your way to our blog and will hopefully prevent it from ever happening (keep reading…).

Working With Friends

It’s really easy to work with friends, right? Or worse, family! Someone who knows you, likes you, know who you do and thinks you’d be the perfect fit for this job. Great! You trust this friend and think they’d never hurt you, overwork you or use the project in the wrong way. Until they do.

It’s really easy for friends or family to assume something is easy, ask for more revisions, expect more from you and belabor you in producing much more than you should have. Or, your friend might make recommendations that you don’t have the heart to tell her your professional opinion is different based on your experience in this world.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to work with friends, but please do it in a professional manner. Many times, when working with friends on an assumed handshake projects can take a turn for the worse and friendships are broken, time is wasted and nothing meaningful is created.

I recommend having friends and family sign contracts for any and all projects. This might be a bit awkward, but it will show them that you are a professional, and your time, knowledge and expertise are valuable and not to be overlooked. This starts your project off on the right foot. I also recommend charging a fair fee, and this fee, of course, is based on the value of the project (value pricing).

SOW example

Contract Checklist

When we had our contract reviewed a couple years ago we gave our lawyer our base template and a list of about 9 things we needed to be rewritten or added. To be honest, we got this template from a former business advisor and I have no idea where he got it from. It’s legitimacy was never questioned by us, which means it could not have been sufficient should we really need to rely on it.

The 9 or so additions or paragraph rewrites we requested were notes that we had been making over a couple of years. We took note of what clients asked for clarification on, or what they asked to be stricken or rewritten. We took many notes of language that we found didn’t stand up to the project we were taking on. We had scenarios arise during projects and found out after the fact that our contract didn’t cover us in certain, precarious situations. So we needed this fixed because it was repeatedly costing us time and profit.

Apparently, the contract template we got from our former business advisor wasn’t so great afterall. It may have worked for him, but for our video specific needs, turns out it wasn’t great. Our lawyer ended up writing us an all new contract.

Want a bullet proof contract? Include these points:

  1. Services Provided: What you will be providing to your client?
  2. Deliverables: What constitutes a “final” or “accepted” deliverable? (our revisions are stated in the specific SOW)
  3. Compensation: How you will be paid and when? (don’t forget about expenses as in example above)
  4. Confidentiality: Being professional means not sharing your client’s trade secrets with the world.
  5. Ownership: Who owns what and when. The service provider should retain ownership until the job is paid in full, always. Otherwise, you have no leverage to get paid after delivering final assets.
  6. Indemnification: You should have insurance in place, but this is also good to have in your contract.
  7. Timeline: How long you expect the project to take and key dates.
  8. Termination: What happens if a project is terminated. Make sure to cover reasonable costs and commitments already scheduled.

Contracts for video professionals provide peace of mind

Contracts for creative professionals make sure everyone is on the same page. No Surprises.

Open Source Contract Template

Now that you know all about what a contract does, why you need one, how to talk about contracts with your clients, working with friends and what it should include, you’re convinced you need one. Great! But where can you find a good contract? The Internet is full of crap.

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve decided to open source our contract that we use with all our clients. Our contract has gone through several revisions and additions as things have come up over the years. So, it’s been developed over years of practice and real world situations.

However, we might be missing something, or your needs might be a little different than ours. We’re based in California, and our state might have different laws than yours. So, be sure to get this contract reviewed by a lawyer before using it.

Use our contract as a template for your business or as a starting point. Remember, we’re not lawyers, this is not legal advice, we’re storytellers, and this template is being offered as a starting point only.

Download the open-source contract template and put it to use in your business today.

How will having a strong contract help your productions? Let us know in the comments below!

Working with the World’s Most Admired Companies

Wow! What an incredible ride this has been. Last week Fortune Media released their annual list of the World’s Most Admired Companies. In the last year, TAR Productions had the opportunity to work with two brands in the Top 5 (Alphabet/Google and Berkshire Hathaway) and a couple more in the Top 50 (Samsung and Toyota)!

Fortune Top 5 Most Admired Companies

When I started TAR Productions from my college dorm room I could never have imagine the ride that was forthcoming. From traveling the world to working with the most admired companies in the world, it’s been nothing short of incredible.

Luckily, we have an incredibly talented team (more on that coming up in a blog post soon).

When reflecting on everything we’ve been able to achieve, I’m reminded of all the times we stuck to our guns, stayed focus on our vision and dream and never let the hard times get us down too far.

In the last year we worked with two of the Top-5 Most Admired Companies in the World.

This isn’t something we ever set out to do. We set out to create connections and tell storeis. While we always strive to make bigger and better projects, working with two of the most prestigious companies in the world was never a core goal. It just happened that way. We stuck to our guns, what we believe in and kept our head down. If we can do it, you can do it. It will take hard work, and there will be times it’s trying, but keep at it and always be improving and you too can achieve greatness. We can’t wait for the ride ahead and happy to have you alongside with us. Subscribe to get emails for each new blog post.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!